COP28: Navigating petrostate politics and the quest for climate action

The path forward demands a concerted global effort, alternative strategies, and a commitment to transformative action.


Former Vice President Al Gore’s recent scathing critique of the United Nations climate summit, COP28, signals a deepening concern among climate advocates worldwide. Gore’s condemnation, shared widely on social media, targeted the summit’s draft agreement for its glaring omission: the absence of a call for the crucial phasing out of fossil fuels. This omission, according to Gore, places the summit “on the verge of complete failure,” a damning assessment from a prominent climate figure.

Gore’s criticism resonates beyond the corridors of COP28, highlighting a fundamental disconnect between the summit’s objectives and its outcomes. The failure to address fossil fuel phase-out in the draft is seen as a capitulation to fossil fuel interests, undermining the very purpose of the conference – to unite the world against the looming climate catastrophe.

The draft agreement’s failure to include explicit language calling for the phase-out of fossil fuels has sparked widespread disappointment and criticism. This omission is critical, as the meaningful mitigation of the climate crisis is largely contingent on reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The draft’s language, focused instead on reducing “consumption and production of fossil fuels” in vague terms, falls short of the decisive action required to tackle the escalating environmental emergency.

This gap in the draft agreement not only undermines the summit’s credibility but also raises questions about the commitment of world leaders to confront the root causes of climate change. The necessity of moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is well-established, making this omission all the more significant and concerning.

Reactions to the draft agreement have been swift and critical. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry and other negotiators have expressed opposition to the draft’s perceived weaknesses, signaling a divide among delegates over the summit’s direction. This dissent underscores the growing frustration with the lack of ambition and clarity in addressing the climate crisis.

Similarly, climate activists and organizations have voiced their dismay over the draft text. Protests outside the conference, with chants labeling the draft as inadequate, reflect a broader sense of disillusionment with the summit’s proceedings. These reactions from various stakeholders illustrate a collective demand for stronger, more definitive action on climate change.

The influence of petrostates, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the host country, has been a point of contention at COP28. The UAE’s dual role as a major oil producer and the summit’s host has raised concerns about potential conflicts of interest influencing the negotiations. This apprehension was compounded by reports of the COP28 President and CEO of UAE’s state-owned oil company, Sultan al-Jaber, using pre-conference meetings to strike oil and gas deals, further fueling skepticism about the summit’s integrity.

These developments highlight the challenges of navigating petrostate politics in international climate negotiations. The potential sway of oil interests over COP28’s agenda and outcomes has been a focal point of criticism, questioning the ability of such summits to deliver unbiased and effective climate solutions.

Over 50 climate justice organizations released a joint statement condemning the failure of COP28 to deliver on climate commitments and to incorporate the voices of marginalized communities, who are often the most affected by climate change. The statement, signed by groups like Corporate Accountability,, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Friends of the Earth International, criticizes the draft for its lack of concrete actions and for perpetuating fossil fuel reliance.

The statement reflects a growing disillusionment with the summit’s direction, emphasizing the need for inclusive and impactful climate action. It underscores the importance of considering the perspectives and needs of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis, advocating for a more equitable and effective approach to global climate policy.

The final agreement reached at COP28, known as the UAE Consensus, has been met with mixed reactions. While it marks a historic moment by explicitly endorsing a move away from fossil fuels, it is riddled with loopholes that allow for the continued thriving of the fossil fuel industry. Critics, including Jean Su from the Center for Biological Diversity, have pointed out that these loopholes undermine the agreement’s potential to effectively address climate targets set out by the Paris Agreement.

The final text’s language on transitioning away from fossil fuels and reducing subsidies for the industry is seen as weak and inadequate. The Alliance of Small Island States, particularly vulnerable to climate change, criticized the agreement for its “incremental advancement over business as usual” and for not representing a significant step-change in climate action.

The inclusion of carbon capture and transition fuels in the final COP28 agreement has sparked controversy. These technologies, while potentially helpful in reducing emissions, are criticized for potentially prolonging the reliance on fossil fuels. The endorsement of transition fuels, seen as a nod to the liquefied natural gas expansion, raises concerns about its impact on achieving climate goals.

Critics argue that the focus on these technologies diverts attention and resources from the more urgent need to phase out fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy sources. The reliance on carbon capture and other transitional technologies is viewed by many as a risky strategy that could delay meaningful climate action.

The global response to the outcomes of COP28 has been one of disappointment and criticism, particularly regarding the inadequacy of climate finance commitments. Developed countries, especially the United States as the largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, have been scrutinized for their modest contributions to global loss and damage funds.

The lack of substantial financial support for renewable energy transitions and climate impact mitigation in developing countries highlights a significant gap in the global effort to address climate change. This shortfall underscores the need for more substantial and effective financial commitments from wealthy nations to support global climate initiatives.

The path forward demands a concerted global effort, alternative strategies, and a commitment to transformative action. The voices of the most vulnerable must be heard, and their needs addressed, as the world navigates the path to a sustainable future. Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program at the Center for International Environmental Law, aptly summarizes the sentiment: “Survival cannot depend on lowest-common-denominator outcomes. We need alternative forums to manage the decline of fossil fuels, free from the influence of those who profit from them.”


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